“I'm always hoping for the nights that are inspired where you almost have an out of body experience. And that's unbelievable when that happens. That your coordination, your mind, everything is working above normal. And it doesn't happen that often but you're always hoping and hoping that that will happen again. And you keep trying for that. Then there's a level that you don't let yourself fall below. But you're shooting for something much higher. It's like an athlete. I played a lot of sports and it's the plays in basketball that weren't worked out that are the ones that are just fantastic that you remember. We don't know the power that's within our own bodies. And there are times when you can reach that. That's what you're constantly looking for is to get beyond your usual capabilities. And you know that that's possible. You've seen things happen that are beyond what is normally what you're able to do. A tractor will fall on a man, tip over and fall on, and his wife sees it happen and comes out and lifts the tractor. How did she do that? Five men couldn't do it so what's locked up in her? What's locked up in all of us if we could only call on it?”—Dave Brubeck, interviewed by Hedrick Smith for the PBS special “Rediscovering Dave Brubeck” (2001)
I doubt that, with whatever time he has left in his career, Clint Eastwood will be making a biopic about Dave Brubeck, who died a couple of days ago. Unlike Charlie Parker, the jazz pianist-composer-bandleader didn’t lead one of those short, tragic lives marked by substance abuse and emotional upheaval, the kind that makes for movie melodrama. Nor, unlike the title characters of Warren Leight’s 1998 memory play, Side Man, was he so blissfully unaware of anything beyond his art that he failed to maintain a stable household. He was married to the same woman for 70 years, and he closed down the great quartet that made him famous in 1967 so he could continue that lifestyle.
Brubeck disdained the “West Coast Jazz” label that jazz critics gave him, as well as the word “bombastic” sometimes used by them to deride his piano style. But his playing style reflected the same passion that Bird--and all too many other jazz musicians who never lived to Brubeck’s 90-plus years—felt about a musical genre that Duke Ellington called “beyond category.” Let’s hope that right now, he’s found a celestial instrument of 88 keys as he greets his old bandmates saxophonist Paul Desmond and drummer Joe Morello as they swing into “Take Five” again.
(Photo shows the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1967, one of their last appearances together, at Congress Hall Frankfurt/Main (1967). From left to right: Morello, bassist Eugene Wright, Brubeck and Desmond.)